Hilltown Families


Many family-friendly New Year’s celebrations offer a range of opportunities to not only celebrate, but also to explore by inviting families to visit many locations or landmarks in their local communities. These celebrations includes performances, art shows, hands-on activities, ceremonies and sometimes food! Such events encourage Western Massachusetts residents to engage their local community and experience it from new perspectives. The exploratory aspect of such events provides a place-based element to the cultural learning that New Year’s celebrations foster. Participants can solidify their sense of place as they learn about and become a part of a local culture, tradition and heritage. Moving through the local landscape offers insight and understanding of home, place and the meaning of local identity and culture.

The New Year is often seen as a moment of reflection and intention-setting. While on your first hike, consider taking your journal with you. Nature can be inspiring and provides a place for contemplation and meditation. A few writing prompts to help you get started:

What is a new skill you would like to learn this year?
Describe one of your favorite memories from last year.
Make a list of the favorite places you visited in your community last year.
Make a list of places you would like to explore further this year.
What is a new skill that you learned last year?

The winter solstice is an introspective celebration for reconnecting with nature and community. As we begin to stay indoors more and spend time with families and friends, the winter season is an opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect with neighbors and family. Storytelling fosters this connection through intergenerational dialogue and shared experiences.

Annual community celebrations for the Winter Solstice spotlight storytelling as part of their event, giving guests the opportunity to both listen and tell. Get your stories ready for these annual solstice community events!

Local museums are an experiential way to explore the history of New England holiday traditions and how our present customs were influenced by the cultural practices of the past. Whether you’re interested in learning about food traditions from the past, historic decorations or customary festivities, museum exhibitions and demonstrations provide us with tangible examples in their exploration of history and culture.

Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday known as the Festival of Lights. For eight days, Jewish families light one more candle of the eight that create the menorah each evening. In Western Massachusetts there are many places to explore the traditions of Hanukkah and Jewish culture through community events and local museums. Bring your family to celebrate while participating and learning about customs of the holiday.

In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga established an African American and Pan-African holiday, Kwanzaa, based on traditional African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Organized around seven principles (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith), Kwanzaa aims to preserve, continually revitalize, and promote African American culture. A week-long celebration observed from December 26 to January 1. During this time, look for annual community-based celebrations in which to participate.

Celebrated in Spanish-speaking cultures around the world (and in many communities in western Massachusetts), Three King’s Day celebrates the biblical arrival of the kings in Jerusalem, bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. Learn about the extended holiday season and the traditions and celebrations that accompany Three King’s Day through reading, baking, crafting, and celebrating!

Five questions to get you curious about the origin of winter holiday customs and the traditions your family celebrates.

During the holiday season many around you communities and neighborhoods host special events that gather everyone together in the spirit of friendship, community and wonder. It’s a great way to discover the unique identity of a place and its traditions. In Western Massachusetts, each community has a distinct character and its own way to commemorate the holiday spirit. By participating in these events, not only do you have the opportunity to engage your community, but you also help to preserve local history and culture.

A fun holiday tradition, caroling events are wonderful intergenerational events that explore choral music with your family and friends. With many songs sung during the holiday seasons rich in history, there is much to learn! From vespers services to community caroling, December is full of opportunities to sing. Get inspired by taking in annual concerts and performances.

In Western Massachusetts there are many places one can explore the beautiful evergreens and winter pines that create our enchanting forests. Like Thoreau, bring along a nature journal to jot down a few inspiring notes along the way.

Some of our holiday traditions today are a result of folklore and myth. For example, the contemporary Christmas tree has an interesting past with a story and history that has been passed down from generation to generation. From its original form with the ancient Norse pagans to its present day form in the houses of those who celebrate Christmas, the Christmas tree, like many folktales, has changed shape and meaning as it has been adapted to new cultures, people and places.

Where does the Christmas tree come from? Did you know that the origin of the Christmas tree has roots in ancient Norse paganism from Northern Germany? Learn more about the origins of Christmas traditions and symbols…

Did you know Christmas wasn’t always celebrated on December 25th? Get the whole story behind the holiday.

During the holiday season, gift-giving is considered a traditional aspect of our seasonal celebrations. Instead of purchasing a gift, gift givers can also look to the domestic arts, crafts, and visual arts for inspiration in making handmade gifts that encourage originality and thought. This week in Learning Ahead we are featuring ways to give gifts that are value-base (non-commerical & creative-free play), support learning and accessible through community-based events, resources and opportunities!

Take the challenge this year by shopping local and non-commercial during the holiday season. The abundance of craft fairs and open studios happening in the area featuring handmade products by local artists and artisans make it easy to find that special something when looking for a gift of any kind. Handmade wood or glass ornaments, hand-knitted scarves, upcycled accessories, one-of-a kind prints and stationary… our region is filled with a strong creative economy filled with amazing artisans!

Making a zine is a rewarding, creative process and can certainly be a part of your gift giving plans for the holidays. Need some inspiration for your zine-making adventures? We have a great local resource and documentary to share with you!

Makerspaces inspire creativity! These community places provide the space to combine science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM!) in order to make and create. They are like an artist’s studio but also include digital making as well as physical making. Activities include woodworking, electronics, computers, 3D printing, knitting, screen printing, sewing, and more! Western Massachusetts has a number of community maker spaces to start brainstorming your do-it-yourself gift giving ideas.

An age-old skill, knitting provides us with some of our most treasured warm clothes. Learning the art of knitting can not only help to provide warmth, but can lead to explorations of local history, local agriculture, and complex math – and families can even engage in service-based learning by donating hand-knitted goods to help support people in need!

Tis becoming to season to pay special attention to spreading kindness to those around us! Families can spread kindness by sharing homemade foods with neighbors, and can expand this activity to include studies of world cultures by baking foods enjoyed internationally!

Step back in time to a simpler day when holiday celebrations involved cooking over an open fire and illuminating homes with candlelight – the holiday season offers opportunities to experience celebrations of the past at three different living history museums! Families can explore, watch demonstrations, and engage in hands-on activities in order to learn about the ways in which the holiday season was honored in early New England.

Today, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is a celebration of the harvest season. The dinner table features the autumn bounty produced by local farms. Customary foods often included in Thanksgiving meals include corn, turkey, cranberry sauce, and fall vegetables such as squash and pumpkin pie. In fact, the traditional New England dishes often included at the Thanksgiving table have even inspired poets in their literary musings.


Massachusetts was a central part of the United States’ early formation. As one of the original colonies, many of the patriots that participated in the Revolutionary War were from Massachusetts. The music that the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps plays is the same music that once inspired the patriots serving in the Revolutionary War. As you participate in Veterans Day ceremonies, take a moment to listen to this early music is this featured video and remember those who served this nation.

During the American Civil War, poet Walt Whitman spent time visiting hospitalized soldiers wounded on the battlefield. He traveled with soldiers from one hospital to another and visited wounded soldiers daily. As the war continued, Whitman resolved to stay in the Union and serve the wounded as they recovered from their injuries. It was a critical moment in his life and greatly affected his poetry later.

Lifelong learners and self-directed teens are invited to read Whitman’s “The Wound-Dresser” along with Bart Wolffe’s reading of the same in this video file…

Living history programs and events in Western Massachusetts happen all year round and include local historical re-enactors portraying the life of New Englanders centuries ago at encampments and school programs. They often showcase the skills and activities of people during war time periods such as the American Revolutionary War or the Civil War. In addition to encampments, some units engage in battle reenactments which are rehearsed recreations of actual battles in and around the region at varying times of the year…

November 11th is Veterans Day, a national holiday that honors American veterans of all wars. The original date has great historical significance – the armistice that ended World War I was on November 11th, 1918. Each year towns and cultural institutions across the region host parades, ceremonies and events that bring together our living history with an intergenerational audience.

Veterans Day, a national holiday celebrated every year on November 11th, provides communities with the opportunity to learn about and offer appreciation for the service provided by military veterans. November 11th is the perfect chance to honor our Veterans, and there are many opportunities to do so.

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News! Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield, joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. This month Sienna and Seth talked about ways to engage in our community in the late fall. Reviewing the newest edition of Learning Ahead, Seth and Sienna talk about learning through the lens of the food, habitat and culture found in the Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA:

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